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Literacy garden enjoys success in first summer
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Courtney Dwyer, left, gardens with her daughter Finleigh Dwyer, 5, center, and Aubrey Looper, 5, right during the literacy garden event at the Hall County School District offices in Gainesville on Wednesday. Every week during the summer, preschoolers and first-graders were able to come to the garden with an adult to hear stories and participate in different activities such as coloring and gardening. - photo by David Barnes

As she watched more than 70 young children and parents listening to “The Tale of Peter Rabbit,” and later participating in a scavenger hunt and other activities in the literacy garden, Kathy Lovett smiled.

The garden, located next to the Hall County Schools offices at 711 Green St., was her dream.

“It’s extremely gratifying to see people appreciating my dream, but more than that, to see children enjoying the books and seeing them explore Mr McGregor’s vegetable garden …,” said Lovett, who began developing the idea for the garden while undergoing chemotherapy a couple of years ago.

“It’s only been since I retired from teaching that I have developed this passion,” she added. “I am so sorry that I didn’t discover it earlier in my life because I now know how important it is to connect children with the common ground we share to understand the total interdependence of life.”

The literacy garden, which was dedicated in May, finished its first summer of weekly stories and activities Wednesday. Each week, the young children, mostly preschool to first grade, arrived with parents, grandparents and other adults to hear a story, do activities related to the story and enjoy the interactive opportunities in the garden, including growing and picking food they grew.

On Wednesday, the activities included a scavenger hunt in which the children looked for 15 different things in the garden, including Peter Rabbit’s shoes, which the story said he lost while in Mr. McGregor’s garden.

Sitting at a small picnic table after the story was over, 3-year-old Oakley Jackson, and his brother, Oxley, 1, were busy coloring as their mom, Misty, watched.

When asked what he liked best about the garden, Oakley said, “We get to color and listen to the story.” He said Peter Rabbit was his favorite story and his favorite part of that story was “when Mr. McGregor tried to catch him.”

“We have come three times and have enjoyed it,” said Misty Jackson. “I think our favorite was we planted a garden in a glove. They planted five different kinds of seeds and got to take them home, and we’ve transplanted them and we’ve talked about the plant life cycle. We do a little bit of gardening at home, but for them to come every week and just interact with different kids and the story times have been great. We’re thankful for the Master Gardeners.”

Sandra Hunt, one of the Master Gardeners involved in helping make Lovett’s dream a reality, read the story of Peter Rabbit Wednesday. She said she likes that the children can hear a story and participate in activities in the garden.

“I think it gives them appreciation of having green things, of being able to actually touch growing plants because some kids don’t know where food comes from; they think it comes from the grocery store,” Hunt said. “They find that they can come to a place like this and have stories and they can have actually hands-on activities and that’s very important for this age child.”  

Natalie Millican, and her children, Raegan, 5, Berklee, 4, and Jace, 2, have only missed two of the events at the literacy garden this summer.

“It’s just been amazing,” she said. “We were amazed when we first saw how each section of the garden had a story assigned to it. They have sight words, so kids can work on their sight words. They just love doing activities surrounding each of the books they are reading. The garden that they supply to everybody, that’s one of their favorite things is to be able to come pick the vegetables that they’ve planted weeks before.”

Marie Merritt, a teacher at Gainesville Exploratory Academy, brought her granddaughter, Evelyn Woodfin, 5, to the garden to the weekly event for the first time Wednesday.

“We saw it was the last day of summer (story time), so we decided to come and join in,” she said. “I have a good friend who is a Master Gardener, and she brought us. I think this is great. Anything you can involve children in nature is super.”

Lovett said the garden is open to the public except for times when there are scheduled events. Once the school year starts next month, she said kindergarten students will start coming every Thursday. Plans are also being made to have periodic story-time events throughout the year.

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